Veterans

Another fatal outbreak: 27 COVID deaths at Illinois vets nursing home prompts probe

LASALLE, Ill. (AP) — State officials have launched investigations into a coronavirus outbreak at a veterans nursing home in Illinois that has infected nearly 200 residents and staff members, and killed 27 veterans.

News outlets reported Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office and the state’s Department of Veteran’s Affairs are attempting to determine what caused the outbreak at the state-run LaSalle Veterans’ Home. The department on Tuesday requested an independent probe into the facility, which was the focus of a state Senate committee virtual hearing on the outbreak.

“The tragedy of what has unfolded at the veterans’ home cannot be understated,” said State Senator Sue Rezin, who represents the district where the home is located. “I’m glad that the director has called for an independent investigation and agree that there are lesson to be learned from this terrible outbreak that has claimed the lives of 27 of our nation’s heroes.”

The current outbreak was identified in late October when a staff member and a resident tested positive for the virus, the Chicago Tribune reported. The home was not largely impacted by the pandemic until then. In fact, two-thirds of residents and employees tested positive since the beginning of this month, according to the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs.

“It is no coincidence that cases within the home began to rise just as cases rose dramatically within the surrounding community,” Veterans Affairs Director Linda Chapa LaVia testified Tuesday at the hearing.

Dr. Avery Hart, a consultant for the state’s Public Health department, said at the hearing that all 16 long-term care facilities in LaSalle County have had outbreaks.

State officials have increased staff testing at the facility, and the governor said an infection control team was sent to the home. As of Tuesday morning, 40 residents and 24 staff members were positive for the virus. There are currently 101 residents at the home.

There have been problems with COVID-19 outbreaks at veterans nursing homes around the country.

Two former administrators of a Massachusetts veterans home where nearly 80 people sickened by the coronavirus died have been charged for their handling of the outbreak, the state’s attorney general in September.

It’s believed to be the first criminal case in the country brought against nursing home officials for actions taken during the pandemic, Attorney General Maura Healey said at the time.

Former Holyoke Soldiers’ Home Superintendent Bennett Walsh and former Medical Director Dr. David Clinton were indicted by a grand jury on charges stemming from their decision in March to combine two dementia units, packing residents who were COVID-19 positive into the same space as those with no symptoms, Healey said.

The veterans “risked their lives from the beaches of Normandy, to some the jungles of Vietnam and to know that they died under the most horrific circumstances is truly shocking,” Healey told reporters.

A phone message was left in September with a lawyer for Walsh. An email was sent to attorneys for Clinton. They could each face prison time if convicted of charges of causing or permitting serious bodily injury or neglect of an elder, Healey said.

Also that month, a state-owned health care organization in Hawaii was directed to take over a veterans care home where 26 residents have died of the coronavirus.

The arrangement announced in September will see Hawaii Health Systems Corporation take over as the operators of Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo. The previous operator, Utah-based Avalon Health Care, will relinquish all control over the facility.

This comes after Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim called for the immediate suspension of the home’s administration in September, according to the Honolulu Star Advertiser.

Department of Veterans Affairs and Hawaii Emergency Management Agency reports found fault with the home’s procedures and preparations.

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